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The Role of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in Civil Rights Movement

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Civil rights are formed by a nation or a state, are legally binding and enforced by those nations and states. Civil rights vouch for essentially equality, the belief that an individual can participate in the civil life of a society without fear of repression or discrimination. For a staggering long while in American history, African Americans were viewed as inferior, viewed as the ‘slave race.’ The struggle for social justice and equality, the infamous Civil Rights movement from 1954 to 1968, aimed to correct these racist and segregative views, mobilising a revolutionary fight for equality. Prominent in this movement were civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, his speeches and futuristic views influencing the world and giving hope, along with civil right leader Malcolm X with his more extremist views and beliefs, giving young black men a fighting chance. Although using different methods with different beliefs, ultimately, both wanted justice for the oppressed African Americans. 

Martin Luther King Junior was a driving force during the struggle for civil rights in America. King sought human rights and equality for African American, as well as all victims of injustice through non-violent and peaceful protests. Chosen as the protest leader and spokesperson of the movement, his influential speeches motivated many, highlighting his key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. Born in Georgia on January 15th 1929, King’s family was one of traditional Southern black ministry, both his father and grandfather Baptist preachers. His father fought against racial segregation and racism, believing they are affront to god’s will. This undoubtedly left a lasting mark on King, having a father that strongly discouraged any form of racial superiority. His first experience of race relations in the North at fifteen shocked him, King “never thought a person of his race could eat anywhere”, yet Connecticut’s peaceful integration of races proved otherwise. This experience emphasised and deepened his hatred for racial segregation, the realisation that things could be different fuelling what would soon lead to a revolution. King’s experiences throughout childhood and while growing up was slowly but surely increasing his loathing towards segregation along with the outrage that was the Jim Crow laws, playing a large part in why he decided to be a prominent part of the Civil Rights movement. During the movement, King undoubtedly left his mark with various successful campaigns along with his influential speeches promoting non-violent protests. Namely, the infamous Montgomery Bus Boycott fired up after Rosa Park, member of the NAACP, refused to give up her seat on the bus. Although arrested and fined, her actions marked the beginning of a civil rights campaign that lasted 381 days. This was a campaign led by King, who painted a picture of Rosa as someone “tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression”, highlighting how the African American community feels sick and tired of what they were forced to accept. His skillfully crafted words influenced others, giving renewed energy to the Civil rights struggle in Alabama. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, being the success that it was, was significantly influenced by Martin Luther King’s effort as a prominent spokesperson. His involvement ensured the lifting of Montgomery’s law mandating segregated transportation. In January 1957, Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This organisation conducted various non-violent protests promoting civil rights reform. The SCLC held a conference with the local sit-in leaders on April 1960, where Martin Luther King Jr encouraged students to continue using nonviolent methods of protest during the sit-in movement. The movement that started in North Carolina quickly spread to other areas, wherein students were sitting at racially segregated lunch counters and refusing to leave. This movement proved to be successful, ending lunch counter segregation in over 25 southern cities. 

Moreover, Martin Luther King Jr was jailed along with many of his supporters following a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama – the Birmingham campaign. Although criticised for endangering children who attended the demonstration, the event drew nationwide attention and widened King’s theory of nonviolent protesting. He stated “nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which was constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue”. By this, King emphasises on what people can achieve by following the nonviolent ways of protest. He highlights how this method can prevent the use force in order to confront racism and segregation. Furthermore, King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963 2 emphasises on his belief that someday, equality will be achieved. Equality in a world where his “children will…not be judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character”. This world he speaks of is one where people, regardless of their skin colour, live in peace and harmony, no discrimination or oppression. This speech instilled hope, and a yearning for that future in the audience. It encourages people to be part of the change for King’s envisioned world. Despite the successes, some of King’s peaceful marches turned to that of disaster. A civil rights march through the Edmund Pettus Bridge turned violent as police went against marchers, carrying tear gas and night sticks. The televised horrors known as “Bloody Sunday” showed horrifying scenes of heavily injured marchers. This highlighted one of King’s failures, how a peaceful march by his followers ended in astounding violence. Furthermore, Martin Luther King’s methods were met with criticism from young black power leaders, many seeing his peaceful methods as being weak and ineffective. 

Throughout the American Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr played an essential and influential part in many protests as the successful spokesperson whose speeches motivated and encouraged many to follow the non-violent approach ending segregation. His influence on race related issues left a lasting mark on the history of the United States. 

Malcolm X was the voice of the Nation of Islam. Rivaled with King’s nonviolent methods, he urged his followers to fight back “by any means necessary,” blatantly outlining his views, that he will do whatever it takes to achieve what he thinks is needed. His last name X symbolizing his lost tribal name, his stolen identity as a result of white supremacy. Prominent in the civil rights movement, his aggressive ideals became influential, giving young black men a fighting chance in segregated America until his assassination in 1965. Born in 1925 Nebraska, Malcolm Little his name at the time, his family had to move to Michigan due to threats from the Ku Klux Klan against his father. His father later on was found dead, his head crushed from one side and nearly severed from the body. His family was denied death benefits, due to the claim that his father committed suicide. These traumatic events happened while Malcolm was only six, undoubtedly left a lasting mark on him as to how cruel and unfair the world is. It adds to his loathing and hate towards racism over the years, leading to him joining the Civil rights movement as a spokesperson promoting his “by any means 3 necessary” ideal. He encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad while under the street name Detroit Red who was in jail for robbery at twenty one. He followed Muhammad’s teachings, believing that blacks are the superior race. This heavily influenced Malcolm, who became a loyal follower of Muhammad – leader of the Nation of Islam. He then abandoned the last name Little, seeing it as his slave name and adopting the symbolic X. Malcolm then was appointed as the spokesperson of the Nation of Islam, establishing new mosques in various cities all for followers of Muhammad’s ideals. He utilised various platforms to get his views across the nation, from newspaper columns to radio shows, all outlining his goals and his request for change. Malcolm heavily believed in the idea of “black awakening,” and how “segregation is the best way, and the only sensible way, not integration”. He doesn’t want segregation to end, but to switch the roles, so that black people are seen as superior. He encouraged his followers to do anything they feel necessary, violent or not. His drive and confronting views made him a media magnet, leading to his participation in various platforms, including universities and television programs. 

On June 29, 1963, Malcolm X led the infamous civil rights event Unity Rally in Harlem (‘Achievements – Malcolm X’, 2019). His speech during the rally centres on unifying all African Americans. He stressed on the fact that they should work together in unity to achieve what they all believed in. After splitting with the Nation of Islam, he formed the Organisation of Afro-American Unity. This organisation aimed to reconnect African Americans to their heritage. They worked to liberate and awaken black people, inspiring hundreds of black power groups around the world. In 1964, during his Pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm’s views on race drastically evolved. He discovered how “orthodox Muslims preached equality for all races” and following this, abandoned his past views. He then believed that “the white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly”. This reveals a change in Malcolm’s views, he no longer sees white men as the source of all inequality that ended to be banished, instead sees them as equals. Deeply influenced, he changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and returned to America with the view that segregation needed to be abolished for true equality. 

Even though he was an advocate for civil rights, some could argue that Malcolm’s views were extreme or even evasive and resentful. He was a speaker with straightforward views, which didn’t sit well with some, leading to them abandoning and going against his methods. Malcolm would often openly oppose and 4 belittle the idea of making everyone truly equal. He thought highly of his methods and rarely changes his views. He believed “if a dog is biting a black man, the back man should kill the dog…or any two legged dogs who sets those dogs on him.’’ This emphasised his brutal methods, telling it simply, he would encourage the black community to fight back ruthlessly, by any means. Malcolm truly thinks this is the only way to unify African Americans, fighting back with one central goal, to end the unfairness of repression and discrimination. Throughout the civil rights movement, Malcolm’s determination was nearly unmatched. His speeches delivering bold and forward views that blatantly reveals his methods, encouraging the African American population to fight back and unite. 

Both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were prominent leaders during the American Civil rights movement. Their charismatic ways of appealing to the people with their influential speeches formed the course of the fight for equality. They were both infamous speakers whose determination set them apart from the rest, becoming some of the most well-known political activists during the movement, fighting for racial equality and freedom. Although both wanted to liberate African Americans from the oppression of segregated America, the two had different approaches and different visions for the future, their attitude towards race-related issues vastly different. While King promoted non-violent and peaceful protests to achieve equality for all races, Malcolm’s speeches as part of the Nation of Islam vouched for black supremacy. Malcolm believed in his theory of “by any means necessary,” preaching his idea of segregation while instilling a sense of proudness in black heritage. He encouraged the use of violent methods whenever needed to achieve whatever needed, believing segregation is the best, not integration. King, however, disagreed with those methods, instead preaching true equality using peaceful methods of protest, integration to him the best option. Malcolm criticised King’s approach to the movement, declaring “what King meant by non-violence” was being “defenceless”. Malcolm always emphasised on self-defense while yearning for the establishment of an all-black nation. He did not believe King’s method was the right one, thinking it was weak while subjecting blacks to the very culture that degraded them. King thought otherwise, he believed non-violence will ultimately be the best way to advance, being “the most potent weapon available to oppressed people and their struggle for freedom”. This 5 highlights the beliefs he held, how violent will never end the racism in segregated America. His dream to live in a world where oppression is demolished and there is equality for all will only be achieved if they walk on the road towards peace, not violence. At the end, King’s non-violent methods will always prove to be more successful. Malcolm supports this argument, for towards the end of his involvement in the civil rights cause, his views changed to mirror that for King’s. After the pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm no longer believes in “separate but equal,” instead, he preached to end segregation, not unlike King’s views. 

Although both inspiring speakers for their cause, King, with his nonviolent approach, was the one who envisioned a world with true equality and the end of segregated America. At the end, one of Malcolm’s quotes says it all – “Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom”. This highlights the common goal and belief held by the two men, they both want freedom. Freedom from the oppression African Americans faced throughout history, freedom to feel equal living in their own country. Despite their differences, they both strive towards liberation for black people in America. The Civil Rights movement from 1954 to 1968 promoted equal rights and justice for black people in America. It aimed to abolish the racist and segregatory views towards African Americans, mobilising a battle for equality. 

To conclude the essay, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were both speakers advocating freedom in the movement. Despite having different views on the issue, one against violence while the other promoting it, they were both on the same side, both promoting equal rights and self-respect for African Americans. Martin Luther King’s accomplishments as a spokesperson throughout the movement was heavily influential towards black empowerment and freedom, advocating for equal rights, giving hope. Malcolm’s methods and ways of encouraging the black population to fight back added fire to the movement, giving young black men a fighting chance, what they never would have gotten in the past with America’s racist and segregatory views. The African American Civil Rights movement was a pivotal point in American history, with two powerful figures shaping the movement. Although both assassinated, they mobilised the fight for equality that achieved greatness for America. 

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